Tag Archives: dogs

Briefly Reviewed: Rin Tin Tin & Stiff & Packing for Mars

Susan Orlean’s book Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend tells three stories, well four. There’s the partly heartbreaking and partly inspiring tale of Lee Duncan and the puppy he found on a French battlefield and named Rin-Tin-Tin, there’s the legend of Rin Tin Tin in all his film, television, merchandising and dog breeding iterations, and then there’s the story of the changing place of the dog in Americans’ lives in the twentieth century, in our homes, in our wars and on our screens. It’s an engrossing read, and I found the balance of informational detail to pace just right (that’s always my litmus for a good non-fiction book).

And the fourth story is the story of Susan Orlean’s quest to find those other stories. Orlean herself is definitely a figure in the writing, not only why she became interested in Rin-Tin-Tin in the first place, but stating which topics she cares about, and is therefore delving more into than others, and why. (For instance mentioning that it’s unclear in many Rin-Tin-Tin movies which dog is actually playing the part, but not getting much into what is and isn’t provable about that, because that’s not something she finds very interesting). So it’s on that level a different style than, say, Dorothy Ours’ Man O’War: Legend Like Lightning, which I also highly recommend, but which isn’t about Ours’ personal story. I like Orleans’ voice, and found the occasional personal sections worthwhile. It’s a big-hearted book, without getting treacly.


 

I’ve read two Mary Roach books now, Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, and Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Voidand I highly recommend both for learning, with just the right filter of humor and empathy, about the stuff you might never have thought to ask about the human body or if you had thought to ask wouldn’t have been sure who to ask (or might not have been sure you wanted to). But I also highly recommend not reading them while you’re eating— Continue reading

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Currently Reading: Quantum Physics!?

I’m in the middle of an immensely satisfying book which explains quantum physics in a way I can (at least for a few minutes at a time) understand — which, if you knew anything about my science grades in high school and college, is really saying something.

The premise of How to Teach Physics To Your Dog is that physics professor Chad Orzel (the author) is explaining concepts and conundrums of quantum mechanics to the unusually inquisitive, not to mention talking, dog he adopted from the pound.

And it’s awesome. The frame of explaining concepts to Emmy (the dog) is quite effective — what does the uncertainty principle mean about the probability of finding bunnies in the yard? Is measuring what made her bone disappear? How does one get to the universe where steak IS dropped on the floor? Continue reading

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Dog is my co-pilot

Dogs are hard to write about well. In no small part because of the tendency of dog owners (I am one) to either anthropomorphize or Lassie-ize. But a good dog poem is not impossible. Here are four that I think not only cover most of the emotional ground of being a dog owner, but also succeed as poems.

Let’s start with taking the dog out to poop. A large part of a dog-owning life. Howard Nemerov‘s “Walking the Dog” has a pragmatic, cynical-but-bemused tone about dog ownership. It begins

Two universes mosey down the street
Connected by love and a leash and nothing else.
Mostly I look at lamplight through the leaves
While he mooches along with tail up and snout down
Getting a secret knowledge through the nose
Almost entirely hidden from my sight

And later he also calls himself and the dog “a pair of symbionts/Contented not to think each other’s thoughts.” This is dog as dog. Pet, sure, loved, sure, but I don’t expect to hear any extra vowels added to the dog’s name in cooing tones. Continue reading

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